Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Red, White and Beauties

I began this painting as a demonstration piece for an Acrylics Class I was teaching at the Thousand Islands Arts Center in Clayton. In this class I was teaching a method of creating radiant color by beginning with an under-painting of complementary colors. Although many people think of acrylic paints as thick and rather plasticky, and apply the paint in that same way, I prefer to use my colors a little thinner and use the under-painting to build up layers of transparent color. Allowing successive layers of color to build up lends a fuller, richer look to your acrylics.

The process can be a bit tricky especially when trying to find just the right complement for your under-painting. A color wheel is helpful if you have trouble remembering where the colors lie on the color wheel and how they are made. And of course which colors are complements: Red/Green, Blue/Orange, and Yellow/Purple. The red/green, blue/orange and yellow/purple relationships are pretty easy to figure out, but it's important to take into account the temperature of the colors. Red is considered a warm color, but reds like Alizarin Crimson can be cool in temperature, and Cadmium Red is a warm red. We can find these relationships in all of our colors. So when we are looking for just the right red to under-paint an area that will be ultimately green, we need to decide if we are looking at a warm green (toward yellow) or a cool green (toward blue)and use a corresponding red, warm or cool.

 But what about brown, tan, beige, gray, black or white? I usually think of the browns, tans etc. as a darker version of orange and under-paint with very subtle, smoky blues. Orange over blue under-painting makes a fabulous brown and you can lighten the color a bit with white or an off-white paint.

When I need to create grays I usually rely on mixing a few complementary color combinations (red and green work well). I also try to find the underlying color in the gray...is it rather like a cool blue? or a warm purple? and add bits of that color in too. Again you can use white to lighten.

And as far as black goes: I never use it. I prefer to mix a combination of Alizarin Crimson, dark green...usually Hooker's Green or Pthalo Green and Ultramarine Blue. So, how do I under-paint that? I look for the underlying color or temperature, paint that layer first, then add my red/blue/green combination. You can vary the amounts of each of those colors to create warm or cool "blacks". Lots of Red will give you a warmer "black", lots of blue a cooler "black".

One of the challenges in painting Red, White and Beauties was finding the color for the background wall. The building itself was a beige tone, but had an almost bluish cast in the photograph. The shadows were a darker blue. I was attracted to the shadows on the wall and the reflected colors on the window, as well as the colorful floral arrangement and flag spilling out of the basket. I wanted the wall and window to be as colorful and lively as the flowers in the foreground, but a bit more subdued so that they didn't fight with the focal point. So I under-painted the wall in vivid shades of orange, then later added a layer of blue applied in a thin scratchy manner to let plenty of the warm orange tones show through. The shadows were painted a darker blue, especially the one underneath the basket.

All of the colors used in the treatment of the flowers and flag were mixed together later in various combinations to make the more neutral dark tones used in the basket. In fact even the less neutral tones in the background window reflections and wall were made with the reds, blues, greens and yellows used to paint the flowers. Using the same colors to mix new neutrals adds to the cohesiveness of the composition.

Throughout the composition I distributed touches of bright red, especially in the basket, to counterbalance the red in the flowers and in the flag. I did the same with the white paint to balance the white stars and stripes. I had to subdue the white of the stars and the stripes because the stark white was drawing immediate attention to the flag and not allowing the viewer's eyes to travel around the painting. So I glazed blue and purple over most of the white to de-emphasize the color. After the painting was finished I applied a coat of gloss medium to add extra depth and shine to the painting.